Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Nose Knows

This past Sunday was magnificent in Seattle, brilliantly luminous and sublime. The skin on my arms thanked me for finally letting them out of confinement to bask in the sun's glory. An afternoon run elevated my buoyancy to a whole new level. This runner's high was a synergistic culmination of the blood and endorphins briskly pumping through my body and my reflections along the way. Typically I can lose myself in lack of thought when I run. This run was different; I couldn't contain all of the thoughts popping into my head. The generating factor to this stream of cognition was smell. Around ever corner of my hilly eight miles was a novel scent that invariably pleased me.

The raw aroma of fresh cut grass transported me back to playing outside as my dad pushed the lawn mower back and forth, taking extra care to keep straight lines. A sickly sweet bouquet of the many blooming flowers landscaped to perfection throughout the neighborhoods reminded me of the arrangement I once put together for my mom on mother's day. Now, delicate to the touch, these dried beauties live on in her bedroom. Distinct from all other blossoms, lilacs emanated their romantic fragrance before a bush was anywhere in sight. Exuberance propelled my legs without effort as I traveled through neighborhoods. Evidence of the dinner hour was also in the air, and sounds of chatter and laughter rang out from backyards. Grills were blazing and the smoky flavor of meat was abound, filling my nostrils, causing my salivary gland to go into overdrive.

I felt keenly tuned into my olfactory sense and began to think about what life might be like if I were unable to see. Blind to the visual cues that spring had arrived, how would I know? Upon experiencing so many smells in the past hour, I realized that they would be a vital factor in distinguishing this renewed time of year. Scent would also play a significant role in preparing and eating foods. The saying goes "we eat with our eyes," so what happens when we are unable to see the food in front of us? With this new found appreciation for my sniffer I decided to experiment with my dinner. I trekked up the last sharp hill to my house, enjoyed a few more moments outside, then went in to assemble dinner: a simple, yet lovely asparagus risotto.

I pulled out what I had on hand and began to assemble, allowing my nose to guide the seasonings added. Keeping it clean and uncomplicated was key. A light citrus-herb blend would yield a meal reflective of the radiant day. Coincidentally, I had just discovered lemon balm growing in the front yard when I returned from my run. Closing my eyes with my face in the pot I inhaled deeply to analyze whether or not I needed more of anything. Garlicky, salty, tangy, peppery, herby enough? I swore to taste only the end product. Once the last squeeze of lemon juice went in along with chopped parsley and lemon balm, my nose told me, and my belly, that it was time. Having released its starchy goodness the rice was now luscious and velvety; shocks of color from the sweet potatoes and asparagus made for an alluring landscape. I scooped myself a bowlful, topped it with chopped almonds, and ate each bite with intention, breathing in the flavors. Turns out, my nose knows its way around the kitchen!      

Lemon Herb Asparagus Risotto

This basic risotto can be modified in many ways based on the herbs you happen to have in the house. Aromatic basil or rosemary could be substituted and the fresh integrity of this savory spring time dish would be maintained. Dried herbs can be used, too, but remember to use about half as much as fresh! Happy Spring!  

Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-5

1 tablespoon fat (butter, olive oil)
1 medium onion,1/2" cubes
1 small sweet potato, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup arborio rice
4 cups broth/stock (chicken, vegetable)
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon balm, minced
salt and pepper to taste
chopped almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, etc.

Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Saute 5-6 minutes till translucent. Add sweet potato. Cook 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and stir till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and stir for 2-3 minutes to toast. Add 1/2 cup of stock and stir continuously until absorbed. Continue this process, adding 1/2 cup at a time, until all 4 cups of liquid have been absorbed. Be sure to continue stirring throughout cooking; this is what draws the starch out of the rice to create the creaminess.

Turn heat to low. Now fold in asparagus and cover pot for 2-3 minutes or until asparagus is bright green in color. Finally, add lemon juice and herbs. Some people like more or less herby so add based on your preference. Similarly, add salt and pepper to your taste. Stir one final time and serve. Garnish with chopped nuts if desired. Enjoy!

Original Recipe, Marissa Barneck, 2010


  1. i'm glad someone is acknowledging the amazing smells outside right now! i just want to walk around everywhere with my nose up. thank you!

  2. Can't wait to try this amazing recipe! Reading your entry, I could almost smell what you were smelling! Amazing! I love all the cooking fragrances outside as the weather gets warmer and people are grilling and opening their kitchen windows!